‘Tis the season to feel mildly embittered at basically all times. I speak, of course, of awards season, during which countless games take home trophies and plaques (or pictures of trophies and plaques), but not the ones you want to win. What, really, is the point, though? On this week’s episode of the Splitscreen podcast, we talk about that and much, much more.
Fahey, Ash, and I kick off the episode by traveling back in time to the very first video game award shows, which really had absolutely no idea what they wanted to be. The crown jewel of this star-studded journey is easily Cybermania 94, a 1994 video game award show that aired on television and featured, among many other things, a fake Hillary Clinton getting her face blown off and a brief pro wrestling segment. Somehow, it laid the foundation for multiple other video game award shows that continue to this day, including the D.I.C.E. Awards and The Game Awards.
After establishing that awards are mostly bad and pointless, we move on to our first annual Splitscreen Awards, during which we succeed in creating gaming’s Oscars on our first try with crucial designations like “best emotionally manipulative moment in a Mario game” and “best (read: worst) crunch.” Finally, we close out with a discussion of awards’ place in the gaming industry and how they don’t really serve a purpose, but marketers sure do love them.
Get the MP3 here, and check out an excerpt below.
Nathan: The way The Game Awards votes is that they have 95 media and influencer types, and then they also have online polls. 90 percent of the vote is decided by media and influencers, and the remaining ten percent is from online polls. I think that what The Last Of Us 2's victory really speaks to is the homogeneity of the gaming industry—the fact that much of it is comprised of people with similar tastes and similar backgrounds. So you end up with a lot of people saying, “Of course The Last Of Us wins. It’s the big prestige game.”
It’s the closest games have gotten basically to Oscar bait, which is its own interesting term, right? Because with the Oscars, unlike The Game Awards, the awards themselves serve a purpose. I would not argue it’s a good purpose, but it’s an existent one. At the Oscars, the awards themselves are the centerpiece, and the institutional prestige of those awards means that even though it’s just one award show, they drive the conversation around film for, like, half the year. And then, when a movie or person wins an Oscar, they’re kinda set—at least, for a while. One of the most important things about getting an Oscar is that it guarantees you future, better work. You get paid more. You get more roles. If you’re a director or whatever, you get to direct bigger and better movies. Oscars decide what kinds of films get made.
So people spend half the year campaigning for Oscars. You wanna talk about award shows being politics; the Oscars are literal politics. People campaign to win them. So I mean, the Oscars at least serve a purpose, whereas The Game Awards are about announcements.
Fahey: You talk about the Oscars, and the nominations come out, and sometimes there’s a surprise, like, “Oh, I didn’t think the Oscar crowd kind of went that way. I didn’t think that was the kind of thing they’d celebrate this year.” The Game Awards nominations come out, and you’re like, “There’s a list of the video games we thought were going to be on The Game Awards.” There’s hardly ever any surprises. You can guess from the nominations what’s going to happen.
I also wanted to point out a thing about the “Best Direction” award we were talking about: Did you see who got honest about the “Best Direction” award, about our article about how Last Of Us didn’t deserve to win it? George Broussard from Duke Nukem, the game that took 30 years to make.
Ash: God grant me the fucking audacity of that guy. I don’t understand how you can be a guy who was on Duke Nukem Forever complaining about a game getting best direction.
Nathan: I think the other thing to consider here is that giving out awards for art in general is a fucking bizarre practice. You talk about this kind of decades-long quest on the part of the gaming industry to create its own Oscars, and it’s like “But why?” Why do we feel the need to do this? Why do we feel the need to give out awards to say what the best art is, when that’s not really how on a day-to-day basis we even consume art? I mean, yes, it can sometimes be useful to help discover new things, but broadly, it’s subjective. It’s personal taste. Giving out awards like this just kind of furthers the capitalistic ideas of competition that we apply to consumer products, but in an arena where they don’t even really belong. That results in things like literal mini-industries springing up around things like the Oscars.
Even at an outlet like Kotaku, why do we do a big post about our entire publication’s games of the year? It doesn’t really ideally represent us. We then also do posts about what we individually think. Just do the individual ones. That’s pretty much where the buck stops for me with people saying, “This is the best game” or whatever. It’s all just one person’s opinion.
Fahey: I’m dealing with an issue right now, to go behind the scenes a little bit. We’re discussing our game of the year list, and there’s a game on there that I had the best time with. For me, it’s Animal Crossing. It changed the shape of my entire summer. It gave me something to do. If there was a game that would help me forget just a little bit about covid, it was Animal Crossing. But apparently no one else liked it, and Nathan hates it, and—
Ash: I think it should be on the list, too. I’m with you, Fahey.
Fahey: We argued for a bit, but in the end I was like “It’s gonna be on my personal list. I’ll be able to tell people why.” They’ll look at it and get my story out of it, and in the end, I think that’s much more valuable than, “Here’s a game we all picked by committee.”
Ash: In the end, it’s all personal taste.
Nathan: Right. Picking by committee just lends an air of institutional legitimacy to something. But even then, what is it really? Who is Kotaku? And yet, there’s a monetary incentive for a lot of companies to send out tons of free codes to websites during this time of the year, to try and get sites to declare them game of the year. Why do they do that? Marketing. It’s nice to have a bunch of awards on your game box or in your trailers and commercials, like, “This is the game of the year!” And here’s a fun fact: All you really need is one website or one show to call your game “game of the year” in any capacity, and there you go: You can put it on your box.
Fahey: Several years back, there was a game—one of those RPGs from Europe that’s dark and brown—and one obscure little website called them game of the year, and not long after, a game of the year edition came out. I forget the name of the game, but you can search “Game Of The Year Edition,” and you’ll see a bunch of games that are like, “How did that get an award?”
For all that and more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. Also if you feel so inclined, leave a review, and you can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or suggest a topic. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtra, Fahey is @UncleFahey, and Nathan is @Vahn16. See you next week!